By Rana Roy
New Delhi. During the pre-election campaign, though the opposition parties of India tried to corner Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his foreign travels and asked for their justifications, however just after the re-election, unperturbed PM Modi restarts his journey to conquer the world within two weeks of his oath taking on May 30.
Modi govt’s second term begins with 19th Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) Summit in Bishkek – capital of Kyrgyzstan on June 13-14. It is going to be the first mega event for PM Modi after his short trip to Maldives and Sri Lanka.
What is SCO?
Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) is a political, economic and security alliance which was formed in 2002 initially with Eurasian countries – China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Prior to this all these countries except Uzbekistan were a member of Shanghai Five Group – formed in 1996. India and Pakistan joined SCO much later in 2017 at the summit in Astana, Kazakhstan.
Currently there are eight countries who are the members of SCO, with a huge geographical coverage and population. The objective of the organisation primarily was security and economic cooperation which later expanded to cultural cooperation, military exercises, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism.
Importance of SCO Summit:
Since it covers a vast geography of the globe, covering more than half of the population and the growing super powers of Asia – China and India along with Russia being the members of this conglomerate, the entire world is following and keeping track of this summit. It has created a regional dynamics in the land locked countries of central Asia. The joint infrastructure projects like Kazakhstan’s Astana light rail project; Lianyungang-Kazakhstan-Russia-St Petersburg road corridor projects etc should certainly improve the communication and boost economical development in the area, but different countries will have their own agenda to put forward in-front of the forum.
Like China would like to expand its dominance in the region with its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), Russia would like to maintain the regional security and protect the territory from any kind of western military alliance. Other countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Pakistan would like to improve their socio-economic health, increase trade and commerce and attract special developmental schemes. For India, it will be a platform to raise voice for counter terrorism, increase connectivity and balancing the politically polarised world.
Significance of SCO Summit – Bishkek, 2019
SCO Summit 2019 has become an important event, not only for India but also for the international relationship of different countries especially with the development of few incidents in the recent past:
- The Trade War Impact – The trade war between US & China and impact of US sanctions on Iran would certainly have an impact in the Bishkek Summit. In this Summit, the members may pitch for multilateral trade system and unite against the US trade policy. In fact, in bilateral talks between Prime Minister Modi and Chinese President Xi Jinping & Russian President Vladimir Putin, the issue is expected to be a focus area of discussion.
- Relationship between India and Pakistan, post Pulwama attack – The reactions of two country heads India and Pakistan are going to be centre of attraction of the entire world. Since one of the primary objectives of SCO is to counter terrorism, China’s role is also going to be observed very carefully. However, there have been latest reports where China has sent out a message to members saying SCO is not a forum to target any one country. Now, it will be interesting to see how India is going to raise the issue of state-sponsored terrorism.
- Relationship between Russia and China – The recent bilateral communication and greater co-operation between China and Russia would also be on focus in the 19th SCO Summit. Russia being an old ally of India, its role would also be monitored closely with respect to the proposition of India on cross border terrorism.
- Trade and commerce projects in Central Asia – There are lots of on-going projects with countries like Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan & other member countries on mining, agriculture, tourism & travel and infrastructure development under Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). These projects will certainly be on focus.
- Imran Khan led Pakistani government’s role and initiative to overcome Pakistan’s internal economic crisis – The summit is crucial for Imran Khan government to take initiative and protect Pakistan from its ongoing economic crisis.
As on date, India does not have its footprint as strong as China in the Central Asian region. Apart from the terrorism and bilateral relationships with China and Russia, Prime Minister Narendra Modi would certainly like to increase India’s ties with the Central Asian countries. The presence of Kyrgyz President Sooronbay Sharipovich Jeenbekov in the oath taking ceremony of PM Modi shows the seriousness in Modi govt’s approach towards the region. A delegation from Information & Broadcasting Ministry represented India in SCO Mass Media Forum held at Bishkek from May 23-26, 2019. Also to develop a stronger relationship, the delegation invited all the SCO members to the Golden Jubilee edition of International Film Festival of India to be held in Goa in November 2019.
Defence cooperation will also be on the agenda during the SCO summit. Two months ago in April this year, Nirmala Sitharaman took part in SCO Defence Ministers Meet. During her three-day visit, she met the SCO member countries Defence Ministers to increase cooperation among the members, to counter the security challenges, especially on the issues like extremism and terrorism in the territory.
Post the SCO summit, PM Modi will be visiting the Kyrgyz Republic on June 14. The Prime Minister is visiting the Kyrgyz capital Bishkek on the invitation of President Jeenbekov. This will be crucial for the development of ties between the two countries on defence, security, trade and investment. Bilateral cooperation in education sector, and connectivity will be on the agenda of the meeting. Presently there are around 8000+ Indian students studying in Kyrgyzstan and recent trouble faced by Indian nationals and students due to the shutting of Pakistan airspace will certainly be on the agenda of discussion.
Rana Roy is a Strategic Affairs and Central Asia expert